"My success, part of it certainly, is that I have focused in on a few things." ~ Bill Gates
"If you have more than three priorities then you don't have any." ~Jim Collins
Your time and energy are not infinite. This doesn’t surprise any of us, so why is it that too many of us don’t say “No” in the workplace when being given or offered a new task or project? Sometimes we aren’t given an option (from the boss in most instances). It is certainly the social norm to take on whatever is offered up to us. And for many of us overachievers it may actually be welcomed. But what we are really doing when we say “yes” is saying “no.”
Saying “No” to priorities - Unless we’ve been twiddling out thumbs in our office, adding something to our plate requires us to set something else aside.
Saying “No” to quality work – One of the first things that happens when we try to tackle everything is that we start looking for shortcuts and ways to do the bare minimum to reach completion. Neither of these things lead to high quality work.
Given that in this day and age we are all overwhelmed with things to do on our job, the quick question that follows the above realization is, “OK, so how do I say no?”
Keep priorities – The first thing is to know your priorities. There will be times when a high priority item is given to you and in those cases you want to make room for it. In most cases, however, it falls lower than that. In those cases it is OK to list out the top two or three things you are doing so the person understands the reason. In the case of dealing with your boss, it allows them to set priorities for your work.
Start small – For most of us saying “no” doesn’t come naturally. For this reason it is often best to start with the easiest things to say no to. The small tasks that fall your way from peers or subordinates. Get some practice in this area before ever saying “no” to your boss.
Set a timeframe – It may be that your schedule won’t allow it now, but if they are willing to push it out a day or week, you will have availability. This is a great way to soften the blow and show that you aren’t avoiding the task…you’re just avoiding it right now.
There are a number of tricks to help you say “Yes” which help in this area as well, but I’ve spoken about those before (Delegating, scheduling “white space” in your day , etc.), and I want to stay focused on the message. The ability to maintain control over your time and focus is critical to your career success. You need to guard those things to make sure they aren’t whittled away by others. Saying “no” is one of the key steps.
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